By Mahmoud a-Shemali and Justin Clark
Syrians in rebel-held Idlib province continue to rely on the Syrian government for identification papers and official documents, despite the presence of opposition-issued alternatives, locals tell the Syrian Voice.
Instead of applying for documentation from the local opposition government, many residents of Idlib, a northwestern province controlled by a coalition of Islamist militias some with ties to Al-Qaeda, opt to get their official documents from government offices in nearby regime-controlled Hama.
Obtaining government paperwork is expensive, requiring payments to middlemen with ties to state institutions, says Abdelrahman Ramah, a 29-year-old Idlib resident who uses regime paperwork. But the cost is a necessary one, especially for those looking to flee the country, as foreign governments and institutions consider opposition-issued papers to be “forgeries” says Ramah.
Idlib residents’ continued reliance on government documents is one example of the failure of anti-government rebels to provide effective alternatives to state services offered by Damascus, a key factor in the embattled regime’s ability to maintain a semblance of control over the war-torn country.
Due to fears of arrest in regime-controlled Hama, many Idlib residents pay off middleman to obtain and deliver their government-issued documents.
Most middlemen are former government workers with connections in nearby Hama, especially those who worked with the regime’s civil registry previously.
One such broker is Faisal Suleiman, a former civil servant from Idlib province.
“Civilians will send requests to us, or they’ll come into one of our offices,” says Suleiman. “Our role here is just to distribute the papers and documents that citizens request from the regime.”
Freedom of choice
Opposition officials recognize Idlib residents’ need for government-issued documents.
“Civilians who want to go abroad as refugees need papers foreign governments recognize, and that’s beyond the opposition’s capabilities right now,” says Rajeh Hajj Hamoud, an employee with the opposition’s civil registry in Idlib.
Although almost all of Idlib has fallen out of the central government’s control, rebels there have yet to establish a reliable government services to fill the void left by the regime’s withdrawal. Cars are unlicensed by the opposition government, teachers still receive salaries from Damascus and the region’s heritage sites are plundered and looted—the lack of a reliable civil registry is but another symptom of the rebels’ inability to organize a working, competent alternative to Damascus.
For now, civilians in Idlib must rely on the Syrian government to provide their official documentation.
It’s a reality that the opposition has accepted, giving civilians the freedom to choose whether they will register with the opposition in Idlib or with the regime in Hama, says Al-Muqdam Abu Mahmoud, a member of rebel faction Jaish a-Nasr’s leadership.
“Forbidding civilians from obtaining government documents just makes their lives harder,” says Abu Mahmoud.